George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Anonymous, 11 November 1793

From Anonymous

Novr 11th 1793 Boston Lincoln Shire [England]


The purport of this Epistle will I presume apologize for the liberty I take in addressing you.

By the accounts we receive from Philadelphia we are inform’d that a dreadful disease rages there which proves fatal to most people, & that the Contagion probably will spread to other parts of the Country; an Idea has occurr’d to me that this Malady may be obviated, & I therefore think it my duty to communicate it to Society.

It will be needless of me to point out the method of Cure for those who labor under this Disease, as the well known Abilities of Dr Rush renders that unnecessary, but I wish to suggest a method of stopping its further progress, which must be done by destroying the specific Contagion on which it depends, & this may be obtain’d by one of the following means, by changing the state of the atmosphere, or by Decomposing the Infectio⟨us⟩ matter. It is a well known fact that when a Putrid Fever prevails in Hospitals, Jails or Ships, the means used for destroying its effect is by the Combustion of Pitch &c. or by firing Gun powder in the tainted Rooms. This method of Cure admits of no other explanation than that the Gases which are the product of Decomposition of the Inflammable matter, by Combustion decomposes the Contagious matter, what corroberates this opinion, the Plague (which differs only in a degree of violence from the Putrid Fever) which raged in London in 1665 disappeard by a Fire breaking out & consuming a great number of Houses, & those dreadful Conflagrations which often happen at Constantinople generally puts a stop to the Plague there; these are some of the reasons which has induced me to hope that if the following means are used they may be attended with happy Effects.

Lay long trains of Gun powder in the Streets & fire them, Tar Barrels or Timber smear’d with Tar may be piled in more open places & burnt for a considerable time, a similar method may be follow’d in the Houses, Gun powder may be fired & Pitch or the Resinous Gums may be burnt, even in the Chamber of the Sick, Camphor, Gum Benzoin &c. with Steams of Vinegar, will not only tend to eradicate the Infection but will prove refreshing to the Patient.

It is ascertain’d that Contagious matter does not rise very high in the Atmosphere, nor is it carried to any great distance, but the more it is diffused the more inert it becomes, & exerts itself with greater violence when in a confined state, & adheres more tenaciously to some Substances than to others, such as Woolen, Furs &c., this points out the necessity of using such things as little as possible about the Sick person & the admission of plenty of fresh Air. Nitre being join’d with the Combustible that may be used will be of service, as it yields by burning, great quantity of Vital or Dephlogisticated Air, which will greatly promote the Conflagration & at the same time contribute to the Salutariness of the Atmosphere.

If these suggestions shou’d have the honor of meeting with your Excellency’s approbation & shou’d in any degree ⟨mutilated⟩ the impending Calamity I shall think myself extremely ⟨mutilated⟩. I am your Excellency’s most obet Humle Servant

W. C——.

AL, DLC:GW. The cover, addressed to GW at “Philadelphia America,” is marked “Inland Postage paid.”

Index Entries